We are what we eat - but sometimes what we eat has a nasty habit of biting back. And worrying scientific research has revealed our eating habits in the UK may be a growing cause for alarm.

According to a major study of 19 European countries published this month in a special issue of the journal Public Health Nutrition, half of all the food bought by families in the UK is now “ultra-processed”. This means it is made in a factory with industrial ingredients and additives invented by food technologists and bears little resemblance to the fruit, vegetables, meat or fish used to cook a fresh meal at home.

According to the report “real food” has been replaced by salty snacks and sugary cereals, industrially-made bread, ready-meals and reconstituted meats alongside sweetened soft drinks. So much so that UK families buy more ultra-processed food than any others in Europe, amounting to 50.7% of our collective diet.

Of course, reasons for our addiction to processed food are not hard to find. Increasingly people are working longer hours and choosing to prioritise convenience over ‘homemade’ quality. What could be easier than slamming a heavily processed ready-meal lasagne into the microwave? Except that scientists are warning such convenience comes at an unacceptable price.

Professor Carlos Monteiro from the University of Sao Paulo in Brazil, a leading researcher in this area, has warned of links between ultra-processed food and obesity and poor health. Such foods are generally made from cheap ingredients and produced on a huge scale, often with added sugar, emulsified fats and salt. Indeed, many processed food products on supermarket shelves are essentially a manmade concoction of chemicals. As a result, people are missing out on vitamins and minerals and also bioactive compounds like phytoestrogens and fibre found in natural foods.

Nor, warns Professor Monteiro, do we really understand the cumulative health effects of eating industrially-made substances, many of which are barely regulated by government.

There is also an environmental cost to ultra-processed food. Such delicacies as mass-produced cakes and biscuits all too often come in wasteful layers of cardboard and polythene, not to mention plastic trays. And, by its very nature, mass production incentivises factory farming where profit is the priority, not animal or environmental welfare.

This question could become all too real after Brexit given the government’s apparent desperation for quick trade deals with countries outside the EU like the US and China. It is quite possible that lower standards of food safety might result.

Take the example of Trump’s America. Livestock raised for food in the US are dosed with five times as much antibiotic medicine as farm animals in the UK. In the case of cattle raised for beef, the difference in rates of dosage may be as high as 16 times the rate per cow in the UK.

Frighteningly, a higher use of antibiotics, particularly those that are critical for human health (the medicines “of last resort”, which the World Health Organisation wants banned from use in animals) has been linked to a rising resistance to life-saving drugs and the rapid evolution of “superbugs” that can kill or cause serious illness.

So here are a few suggestions. Why not use the taxation system to subsidise fresh, seasonal vegetables? This would encourage healthy cooking as the most economical way of sustaining a family. At the same time, extra taxes could be put on “ultra-processed” products to turn them into luxuries rather than an everyday source of nourishment.

Considering the adverse effect on the planet and to people’s health of excessive meat-eating - and I speak as a committed carnivore - we clearly need a re-think. After all, imagine if developing countries developed our meat-addiction. The result would be way beyond unsustainable.

Above all, we must seek to educate the next generation that non-sweet food is delicious if cooked well. Schools are a good starting place but parents also have a responsibility. In the eighteenth century eating to a dangerous excess was called “digging your grave with your teeth”. Surely the time has come to stop digging.